top of page

Welcome to Fiona's Peculiar Adventures

Who is Bonifacius Amerbach,

and why do I want to know more about him?


Published on 27th October, 2020


                                       This guys is -->

    Bonifacius Amerbach (1495-1562), a Swiss Jurist, Humanist and Professor 

Painting by Hans Holbein the Younger (1519)


When I first came across this figure, my immediate reaction was – Oh yes, one of those rich dudes.

Rich family --> accomplishments --> knowledge and power. Isn’t that just one of those boring cases?


But there is more to that, in this case. The more I dig out about Bonifacius, the more interesting it gets, and at some point, I began to think: hey, why hasn’t every Basler at least heard of him before? 


Yes, indeed Bonifacius was “born well”, the youngest of three sons of the well-esteemed printer, Johannes Amerbach.  A very cultured childhood, with classics, Latin and music lessons, Bonifacius certainly benefited hugely from his prestigious upbringing – that is, his father was even good friends with Erasmus of Rotterdam. Connections, you see. 


But that does not deny the “contributions” he has made to the cultural life of Basel, even if they weren’t directly his intentions.  

Here are some reasons why I think we should care. 


1. He “gave rise” to Basel’s Museum Culture


Basel, the city of Museums. Baslers are immensely proud about that and visit their museums frequently with great enthusiasm. What is seldom mentioned is that Bonifacius (and his family) played a huge part bringing about the museum culture. 


Johannes, Bonifacius’s father, seemed to have started the collection, the so-called Amerbach Cabinet. Bonifacius and his brothers then contributed significantly to enriching the collection, and the Cabinet was left to Basilius, Bonifacius’s only surviving son. Basilius witnessed the death of his wife, child (to the Plague) and father in the same year, and passed all his possessions to Ludwig Iselin, his sister’s son, so on and so on. The Cabinet ended up in the hands of some money-oriented successors. In the risk of losing the city’s most valuable treasures to whomever (richest), some professors of the University of Basel (henceforth Unibas) urged the city council to purchase the Cabinet with municipal funds in 1661. 


In 1661, the Amerbach Cabinet became the first municipally-owned, open to the public museum in the world. 




2. He collected Manuscripts and Prints “for our sake”


Among the collection of music manuscripts resided now in the Library of Unibas, at least 18 of them belong to the Amerbach Cabinet, and many of them related directly to Bonifacius. 


CH-Bu MS F.X. 1-4

A set of four songbooks copied in Basel, most probably compiled for Bonifacius. Mostly containing German secular pieces (98 of them) composed by Ludwig Senfl, Paul Hofhaimer, Heinrich Isaac, Sixt Dietrich etc… Beautiful music…


CH-Bu MS F.IX.22

Old german organ tablature, copied partly by Bonifacius himself, contained 57 pieces. These are mostly chansons and Lieder intabulated for the organ (with a unique style for ornamentations), together with some preambulums and dances. Again, great stuff.


More and more…


But you get the idea. If Bonifacius wasn’t such a music lover that played keyboards, lute, recorder, cornetto, and sing, we wouldn’t be so fortunate to have access to all these wonderful manuscripts nowadays.  


3. He befriended all the coolest people (I mean musicians)


Bonifacius was in the cool gang. He was friends with a lot of musicians, partly probably because one does need someone to play music with. He sometimes learnt from his musician friends, but also in many cases provided concrete help to them, including recommending them to jobs. (We all need such a friend.)


Hans Kotter, an Organist in Freiburg, was probably Bonifacius‘s biggest keyboard mentor. Ambrosius Kettenacker, a senior of Bonifacius at UniBas, gifted Bonifacius CH-Bu F.X.10, a songbook. (yes, one. The rest of the parts he probably gifted to others. Why befriend only one person if you could befriend three/four?) Lucas Philanthropos made Bonifacius’ cornett around 1514. Christoph Piperiunus from Bern was the music teacher of Bonifacius’ son. Johann Weck (another organist in Freiburg) helped Bonifacius copied part of F.IX.22 and was the composer to some of the pieces. 


The Amerbach Correspondence is the collection of letters, now located also in the University library, written to or from the members of the Amerbach family. We can learn a great deal about Bonifacius’s and his family’s lives and the connections they had through reading these letters (and probably also their secrets). 




xx Closing xx


I personally enjoy a lot when I research about Bonifacius Amerbach. It allows me to understand why Basel is like how it is today and where things came from. The Infrastructures, the city’s culture, the people, all these start to make a bit of sense to me when I learn more about the history of the place I live in. 


But anyway,

this is just a very short passage on why Bonifacius Amerbach is important to Basel, and why, therefore, you should come to our concert “The Musicbooks from Bonifacius Amerbach” on November 4th, at 19h in Theodorskirche!

(Yea I know, that’s an unexpected twist.) 

By reading till the end of this passage, you have earned yourself a golden ticket to the concert! 


(Jk, no tickets needed, just me here cordially inviting you to come to my concert.) 

What’s in the Amerbach Cabinet?


Paintings by Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Urs Graf and more

15th-16th editions and manuscripts of Cicero, Caesar, Gallus … and all of the Church Fathers. 

Topic of interest for nerdy musicians like me: 16th-century songbooks, keyboard tablatures, lute tablature, etc.

New Amerbach Concert poster.jpg

P.S. This is not an academic passage for sake, and therefore I delightfully skipped Bibliography. However, I must credit most of these information to John Kmetz and his research on the Manuscripts in the University Library.

bottom of page